Our next 2013 season in review piece has us reviewing a Dodger who is now no longer a Dodger anymore. That would be the “little pony” Nick Punto. The scrappy utility infielder slid into the first base of our hearts throughout the 2013 season.
Punto was acquired by the Dodgers in the 2012 blockbuster trade with the Boston Red Sox that brought over Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett. Punto only had 35 at-bats in 2012 for the Dodgers, and we saw very little of him over the final month of the 2012 season.
Punto played a much bigger role for the Dodgers in the 2013 season, due to rampant injuries suffered to the infield. At one point the entire infield was on the disabled list, or hurt, and Punto split time between third base, shortstop, and second base, playing in 116 games.
That was the most games that Punto had played in since the 2009 season when he was with the Twins. Punto made the most of his surprising extended playing time. The switch-hitting infielder got off to a hot start in 2013 by batting .400 (14 for 35) in the month of April. Punto took advantage of extra help from new hitting coach Mark McGwire. Big Mac who used to coach Punto when he was playing with the Cardinals, was able to instruct the little pony with a new batting stance. Punto eliminated his leg kick, and instead just raised his foot, and dropped it. This mechanical change allowed him to drive the ball better, and resulted in better at-bats, and more hits early in the season.
As a matter of fact, Punto had five multi-hit games in April, and five more in the month of May. The highlights were two, three hit performances. One on April 28th versus Milwaukee at Dodger Stadium, That which resulted in a 2-0 Dodger win. The other was a 3 for 5 performance in a win against his former Cardinals team.
Punto didn’t have another multi-hit game until August, and he tapered off considerably in the middle months of the season. Punto batted .267 in the month of May, and then plummeted to .186 (13 for 70) in June. July was the worst month for Punto, as he posted a putrid .103/.188/.103 line in July with only three hits in 29 at-bats that month.
Punto recovered to pick it up in August, by batting .302 (13 for 43), and ended the season with a solid September. Overall, Punto posted a slash line of .255/.328/.327 with two home runs, and 21 RBI in 294 plate appearances.
Punto’s defense was less than stellar, but he did portray some good utility by giving the Dodgers league average defense. Punto had to often fill in for Hanley Ramirez at shortstop, and when Mark Ellis injured his quad, Punto filled in admirably at second base. Punto made seven errors, and finished with a +1, and +2 rating at third base, and shortstop respectively.
The Devito game
On August 12th, in a night game against the New York Mets, Punto hit a go-ahead solo home run into the visitor’s bullpen to give the Dodgers the lead in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Dodgers would go on to win that game by a score of 4-2 in front of Punto’s favorite actor Danny Devito. Devito also had said that Punto was one of his favorite players, and the two men shared a fun moment meeting after the game.
The four hit game
Punto had the game of his life on September 3, in a 7-4 Dodger in at Colorado. Punto had four hits, going 4 for 5 in the Dodger win.
The Costly NLCS Tootblan
With the Dodgers trailing in games 2-1, and a run in game 4 of the NLCS against the Cardinals, Punto committed one of the most retarded, and costly Tootblans I have ever seen. Representing the tying run after hitting a one-out double in the bottom of the eighth inning, Punto was immediately picked off of second base by Cardinal’s reliever Carlos Martinez. The Dodgers would go on to lose that game by a score of 4-2, and lose the series in six games.
2014 contract status
Punto was a free agent after the 2013 season, and on November 13th, signed a one-year deal with the Oakland A’s for 2.75 million dollars with a vesting option year for 2015.
Overall outlook for 2014
The 36-year-old switch-hitter is no longer a Dodger, but we may never forget the extroverted utility man. Punto entertained us all with his constant head first slides into first base, and the Dodger’s referred to him as one of the “glue guys” for his great clubhouse camaraderie. Despite his declining batting, and on-base skills, Punto still put up a 2.2 WAR season, and filled in admirably with surprisingly decent utility. I actually liked Punto, kind of, and wouldn’t have minded if he had been brought back on a league minimum salary. But not for 2.75 million dollars. Have fun with that Oakland. The truth is, Punto is at the end of his career with little upside, and probably doesn’t have more than a year or two left in him. He may wind up finishing his career in the American League. Now he will be sliding into the first base of the hearts of Oakland fans. So long Punto, good luck in Oakland. We wish you the best.